#1 - PROTEIN
When your immune system is compromised or you have an injury, your body is in a process of breaking down more protein than it can make. This process causes fatigue when you are sick and the injured muscle to atrophy. If you are not eating enough protein during this time, your recovery will be long and difficult. Including the amino acid leucine (an important protein building block) may help prevent some of the protein loss due to illness and with injuries.
Make it a point to add quality protein to every meal and snack. I have discussed the importance of including protein in each meal and snack even when you're not sick or injured, but illness and injury makes this even MORE important. The best sources include eggs, chicken, lean beef, pork tenderloin, seafood - especially fatty fish, beans and lentils, soy, and low-fat dairy. Your needs are based on your body weight. We need between 0.8 – 1.0g of protein per kg of body weight. For example, if you’re a 150lb (or 68kg) individual, you will need between 54 – 68g of protein each day. This is simply to maintain your current muscle mass and protect your immune system.
#2 - CALORIES
While I certainly understand that many of us tend to have a decrease in our appetite when we're not feeling well, this is the worst time to be skimping on your fuel intake. Your caloric needs are actually increased at this time, so not eating will severely slow down the healing process. When you're injured and not as active, your metabolism actually goes up after an injury. This is because your body needs to burn calories to build new tissue to repair muscles and tendons.
Strive to avoid skipping meals. You should be eating every 3 hours or so, including a lean source of protein, in order to keep your energy levels high and the healing process going.
#3 - Vitamin D
Research has shown an apparent link between a strong immune system and Vitamin D. Individuals who are deficient in this vitamin (which is extremely common for individuals who live in the Northeast) are more likely to become ill, acquire a chronic disease over time, and are more prone to injury. Vitamin D plays a key role in rebuilding bone after a stress or fracture. Since your body naturally produces this vitamin when exposed to sunlight, your circulating levels drop during the winter months, making it crucial to add this nutrient to your diet.
The obvious change would be to boost your intake of vitamin D-rich foods, but sometimes this isn't even enough for those individuals who have lower levels of Vitamin D, are sick and/or have an injury. Food with a good source of Vitamin D include canned salmon and milk. If you eat yogurt, you'll need to make sure it is fortified with the vitamin. If you don't eat these foods very often, I strongly recommend taking a high-quality Vitamin D supplement such as nutraMetrix Vitamin D. This supplement offer 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily!
#4 - OMEGA-3s
These are essential fatty acids that are imperative for maintaining joint and heart health. When our immune system is compromised and/or we have an injury, Omega-3s can suppress inflammation and speed up the healing process. Research shows that an intake of Omega-3s can boost your immune system and decrease muscle atrophy.
Strive to include at least two servings of omega-3 rich foods per day. There are three different types of Omega-3's - Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). It is important to get sources of all types of Omega-3's for optimal healing and health. Sources of ALA include: vegetable oils such as soybean oil, canola, flaxseed oil, walnut oil; some leafy greens such as brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens. EPA and DHA are found in animal sources such as: fish, including shellfish and fin fish; omega-3 enriched eggs; and organ meats.Shoot for at least two servings of omega-3-rich seafood, like salmon, a week. Try adding walnuts and flaxseed meal or oil to smoothies. Buy eggs enriched with omega-3s. If you don't get sources of these foods on a daily basis, I recommend taking a high-quality fish oil supplement such as Heart Health Omega-3 Fish Oil.
#5 - OPC-3
OPC-3 is a powerful antioxidant that is made from a combination of bilberry, grape seed, red wine and pine bark extracts, and citrus extract bioflavonoids. Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) are bioflavonoids (complex organic plant compounds) found in fruits, vegetables and certain tree barks that provide exceptional nutritional benefits to the human body.
Studies have shown OPCs to be up to 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more powerful than vitamin E in neutralizing free radicals. Eating foods rich in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables is one sure method to prevent illness - especially this time of year. To boost your immune system, I recommend nutraMetrix Isotonix OPC-3, which contains the only isotonic form of Pycnogenol® in the world. Pycnogenol is a natural plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree and the most clinically researched and potent bioflavonoid.
FOODS TO AVOID OR MINIMIZE:
The following foods are best to cut out or minimize in order to speed your recovery. These are foods that are best to minimize anyhow, but especially during times of healing or illness.
Research has shown that consuming alcohol when you have a compromised immune system and/or when you have an injury greatly reduces your muscles' protein-building ability, leading to more severe muscle atrophy. Consumption of alcohol during this time will also contribute to fatigue and an even weaker immune system.
While healing from an injury or recharging your immune system when it's down and out, your body isn't as efficient at processing sugary carbs, which may raise circulating levels of fat in your blood. Added sugars will also prolong the body's healing process.
FRIED AND FATTY SNACKS
These foods contain oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (which can increase inflammation) and few omega-3s, which help with healing and boosting your immune system.
Following these tips will ensure a speedy recovery from both injury and illness. Here's to preserving and maintaining our health!